Friday, October 30, 2009

Operation Perky Bunny

I'm proud to report that this morning at 9:41 a.m. Operation Perky Bunny was officially launched, proving once and for all that there are no limits to how far one will go to distract oneself from the enormous vacuum of time that exists between the present and the future. Following is the five paragraph order.

Situation: Ethan's atresia surgery and Katie Couric's birthday fall on the same day, 1/7.


A) Commander's Intent
1) To entice Katie Couric to come to Charlottesville, VA, on her birthday/Ethan's atresia surgery day
2) To raise awareness of atresia-microtia using the Katie Couric machine
3) To get Ethan on TV


A) Badger, bother, bewilder
1) extend invitation. repeatedly
2) encourage others to do same
B) Bitch, bake, bribe
1) complain that ear/birthday cake will have been baked for naught
2) play "break our child's heart" card
3) play upon Stephanopoulos connection, peer pressure

Administration/Logistics: Cake procurement, excessive invitation issuance, Catholic guilt

Command and Control:
A) Autograph signing
B) Cocktail enjoyment/reminiscences
C) Copy of video for scrapbook

OK, E-Force. You have your orders. Now go get that Couric!

"I beg. I call. I badger. I cajole. Part of the secret is everyone has fun and that's really motivating." -- Katie Couric

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2010: The Ear We Make Contact

70 Days Out.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a date for atresia repair surgery: Thursday, January 7, 2010.
Ronnie Bean (whom I love in a wholesome, non-oogy kinda way and whom I regret we will probably not get a chance to meet since Ronnie apparently works in a building far from gen pop. Which is sad for us. Not so much for Ronnie because we all know that people suck and who the hell wants to have to deal with them?) contacted me yesterday afternoon to ask if that date worked for us. We checked our calendars and nada, so we confirmed. Actually, the timing is great since the company Sandi and I work for just started offering an EPO Plus plan that takes effect January 1, 2010. The plan essentially pays for everything (remember that post about it costing us $1,000? Just forget that one) so I opted in because, well DUH! So in essence I'm giving our insurance company the day off from January 1 - 6. My little gift to them. I know, I'm a softy. After that though? Well, I'm thinking that unless the healthcare industry is indeed single-payer by then, with the atresia repair and the Medpor reconstruction and all I will probably be declared an enemy of the corporate state, extraordinarily rendered to some shithole Middle Eastern country and water-boarded until they run out of water. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Anyhoo, the way this trip should shake out is that we'll leave for Virginia Tuesday night, show up for a surgical consultation, maybe a hearing test on Wednesday, then Ethan is admitted on Thursday. The surgery should take 4 - 6 hours and Ethan will have to stay over night, but barring any complications, we can take him HOME FRIDAY! There will be a follow-up visit in either a week or a month (I can't remember which. I suck.), and then we're free to schedule the Medpor surgery with Dr. Lewin in California. We hope to get that procedure done around Spring break, or at least before summer begins. Seriously, I know it would be long-term gain, short-term loss, but the thought of having to keep Eth inside to heal while his friends are rampaging through the neighborhood during the summer isn't my ideal. Probably not his, either. Whatever. I'm probably being really naive about the time frame, but at least the first chord has been plunked on the great Zen banjo in the sky. This performance will be played in the key of January 7, thankyouverymuch.
But what's been most important/adorable has been Ethan's response. He's known that this was coming and he's been excited about it, but until now he hasn't had a firm date. Yesterday when I picked the boys up from school Ethan told me that one of his friends is going to DisneyWorld for Christmas this year and wouldn't it be great if we could go, wink wink. To which I replied, "well, sure, I guess that would be great. But I was thinking maybe we could do something a little different this year. Like get you a new ear."
Silence from the backseat. "Mommy and I heard from Dr. Brad and got a date for your surgery. We're going to spend the Christmas break hanging out together, then drive down to Virginia to meet Dr. Brad the following week and he can make it so you'll be able to hear with your little ear. What do you think?"
I looked in my rearview mirror to see Ethan grinning wildly -- and I mean WILDLY. That's an image I hope my mind never loses. Finally he said, "I think that's a good idea."
Through a slightly smaller grin he asked me if it will hurt. I told him he'll be asleep and that at worst it may be a little sore afterward, but that it's nothing a tough little monkey like him can't deal with. I hope like fuck I wasn't lying to him because the kid's got a memory like an elephant when it comes to stuff like this and I'm already destined to be the subject of many a therapy session. I also hope that his fascination with his new hearing will take his mind off the fact that daddy is a big, fat, lying jackass. Anyway I successfully changed the subject by reminding him that his friend will only get to take photos and t-shirts home from his Disney trip, while we'll get a new ear out of ours. And ears last longer than any t-shirt ever could. Believe me, I'm a guy and I went to a state college, which is to say that I may unknowingly hold the world's record for refusal to call time of death on a garment. To whit, most of the t-shirts in my drawers pre-date my kids -- some by 15 years. Seriously. But I still have the ears that used to pass through those ratty, frayed neckholes at least 3 times a week. So suck it, Disney boy!
Anyway, tangential thinker that I am, I wondered what other great moments occurred on January 7. A quick search on teh internets let me know that it also happens to be Katie Couric's birthday. Now, I'm not sure, but I think I have at least the germ of a life-altering idea. The details are a little fuzzy, but include Katie Couric coming to Virginia on operation day to meet Ethan and plaster his face all over the news, and maybe we have a surprise birthday cake shaped like an ear for her. The plan may or may not involve a piece of Ethan's ear sailing across Colorado in a home-made hot air balloon. Like I said, I'm still working out the details. Meanwhile, I'm going to go see if she's on Twitter so I can start feeling her out for 1/7. Keep your fingers crossed.
And wherever you happen to be on January 7, please do two things: 1) Try to send out as much good energy as you can for a very special little boy and 2) At some point in the day, imagine what it would be like for your child to hear for the very first time and smile with us.

"He was always sort of a scrappy little kid, wasn't he? A bit of a fighter?" -- Katie Couric

Monday, October 26, 2009

Love in the Time of Hollera

At one point during the past week I was absolutely certain that the CIA was somehow behind the H1N1 Virus. I was also pretty sure we owned several tiny purple horses that only revealed themselves in certain light and loved to have their bellies scratched.
I don't believe that what I've been trying to shake is Swine Flu, but I'm keeping my over-stuffed head down and trying not to cough on people -- people I like -- just in case. Whatever this is, it's vicious. I had a flu shot a few weeks ago, and the mental images of this new bug bending that virus over and making it its bitch are among the more pleasant things that have passed through my head of late. Seriously, it's like the scenes from "Lockdown" that they couldn't show on TV being played out in my bloodstream. And amid all the bacteriological anal rape, reality seems to have returned to the uncollapsed wave function and I am no longer able to reliably discern the real from the imagined. So I figure I'll just throw some stuff out there and let you decide whether it really happened or not.

- I think I had a telephone interview for a job I really wanted during which I told the woman interviewing me that I wanted to wear pajamas to work every day. "You know how they say to dress for the job you want? Well, I want to work from home. Or be Hugh Hefner. And frankly, pajamas are a huge concession considering I sleep in the nude and would have to buy new office jammies." I think I also used profanity, said that Human Resources departments should be renamed "don't sue us" departments and suggested that my management style was very relaxed and non-negotiable. "Yeah, as long as you get your stuff done, I don't give a shit if you come in 2 days a year wearing a tiara. What am I, your fuckin' babysitter?" So far I haven't received a call-back so I can't be sure if this really happened.
- I think Sandi and I had a date. I believe we went to dinner at a really nice restaurant, then went to see Lewis Black. I think I dropped Sandi off at the front door, then parked 3 blocks away from the theater and walked in the pouring rain. The next morning my clothes were still wet, so this probably happened. Which is great, because both dinner and the show were freakin' awesome.
- I think I solved for Pi.
- I think George Harrison sat by my bedside laughing and calling me "Eddie in the Sky With Diamonds."
- I think the fungus growing on the north side of our house tearfully begged me not to powerwash it away.
- I think Ethan stayed home from school one day because he wasn't feeling well and the school would no doubt shoot that look of disapproval they always shoot us when we do something wrong.
- I think on the day he stayed home he had his first real diarrhea episode. I vaguely remember running to the bathroom because he was in such a panic only to find that he'd locked the door. I think I begged with him to tell me what the problem was, and I think his response was a quiet, quivery "Water is coming out of my butt." I believe I got him to open the door and assured him that there was nothing wrong with him -- that it happens to EVERYbody some time.
- I think he then pulled out several flip charts and a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate how rare this actually is among 5-year-olds.
- I think I'm perhaps at my most delusional when I believe myself to be a good dad.
- I think I testified before Congress in favor of a single payer system.
- I think I actually believed that Ted Danson sent me an e-mail asking me personally for help raising money for the Clinton Foundation. And I replied all like, "George Clinton? I LOVE P-Funk! Do you think they'd come to my house and jam? I know all the words to 'Do Fries Go With That Shake?'"
- I think we had a Halloween party at our house for a few dozen of Thomas' and Ethan's school friends. I'm pretty sure this actually happened because the house was still totally destroyed as of this morning. However, there are several details of the party that seem just too surreal to all be true:
  • parents of 5- and 6-year-olds who have never met you before will just drop their kids off at your house and leave to "run errands" for 4 hours;
  • Sandi can not be that freakin' bad at math that she would ever imagine the appropriate amount of food to feed 25 kids and a handful of parents is 5 party-size pizzas, roughly 6 feet worth of assorted subs, 6-gallons of punch, 15 dozen cookies, 10 pounds of assorted candy, 4 trays of hot hors d'oeuvres, a case of beer, 3 cases of soda, 2 large bags of chips with dip, a 3-gallon drum of cheesy poofs, 2 large bags of pretzels, 2 cases of chocolate milk, 3 large blocks of assorted cheeses, 1 vegetable tray, 1 fruit tray, 8 cases of flavored water and whatever one could find in our pantry;
  • some little girl grabbed one of the boys' Nerf swords and smacked me in the legs for at least 2 hours straight;
  • the little kid who kissed Ethan in school is much worse than I ever imagined;
  • kids only seem to want the toys at the bottom of the storage bins;
  • buying a drum set for Christmas last year was a really bad idea;
  • parents who drop their kids off at your party then return to pick them up 4 hours later will actually think it's OK to say to you, "Man, you're pretty brave" or something equally asinine;
  • Some of those same parents will not understand why you're telling the little bitch with the Nerf sword to smack them until they bleed;
  • nobody will eat cookies shaped like fingers with almond sliver/fingernails held in place with red gel;
  • kids don't flush.
"Picture yourself on a bed with a fever, and George Harrison is mocking your high. Suddenly small purple ponies with chalkboards are helping you solve for pi." -- George Harrison's Ghost

Thursday, October 15, 2009

An After-Care Carol

Excerpts From A Play Dedicated to the Little Girls in the YMCA After-Care Program Who Called Thomas a Jerk and Refused to Play With Him. In Three Acts.

From Act 1,
What Was
... "I said I'm Bert! The Ghost'a Relationships Past? You know, wit da chains and da rattlin' and shit? WOOOOOOO?"
"Whatever," said Paris, thumbing through her new copy of Cosmo.
"You're fat," said Brittany.
"Look, you little ... " Bert cut himself off. "My JOB is to show you how yous came to dis lowly state. I don't like it no more dan yous, but it's my JOB. You know what a JOB is?"
"Yeah," said Brianna, regarding her nails. "That's when. like. Mexican people. you know. mow your yard and stuff? so they can afford. like. beans and stuff?"
Head throbbing for most of the three hours he'd been at this, the ghost checked his urge to slap and continued, "Just shut your freakin' pie holes and look at da screens, all right?"
"Whatever," said the three in creepy, disaffected unison.
As the girls' television screens flickered to life, each glowed with images of a different beautiful young lady sauntering through the halls of her school, her walk thrumming with a rehearsed, over-the-top sexuality that seemed to swish "jail" on the left step and "bait" on the right.
"Mommy?" Paris squinted. "Is that you?"
"Yeah," answered Bert, exhausted and rubbing his temples. "Dem're yer mudders. Jus fuckin' watch, eh?"
Watch they did, as their mothers fast-forwarded from boy to boy, careening from encounter to encounter. At first the boyfriends seemed smart and hunky -- prized catches by most standards -- and the girls felt a strange pride that their mothers had lured the best and the brightest. That pride swelled all the more as they watched the young ladies on the screens crush the spirits of the quieter boys, which inspired their daughters-cum-voyeurs to cheer: "Rick 'em, rock 'em, roll 'em, reek. Come on, mommy, crush that geek!"
But as the stories advanced, the suitors became homelier. Less self-confident. Downright losery. It seemed the "catches" had grown tired of the games and, after nearly six hours of watching their mothers dive headlong into increasingly desperate and repulsive encounters with bouncers, Radio Shack stock boys and frat guys, the three stopped and stood in disbelief as the exclamation point was delivered. There on the screens were the three saddest, most pimply, insecure and horny lumps of false bravado they had ever seen.
"Daddy? But, but ..." Brianna whispered in disbelief. "He's such a ... a ..."

From Act 2, What Is
"Mommy, put down those pills! Daddy, those one dollar bills are supposed to be for my college tuition! Oh, why can't they hear me? Make it stop, MAKE IT STOP!!"

From Act 3,
What Should Never Be
"Oh, Maurice ... er, I mean Mr. Ghost of Relationships Future, sir! We don't WANT to end up like that! We don't WANT to have our husbands leave us for some young sluts because we're so fucking shallow and self-absorbed! We don't WANT to be all wrinkly and have all those cats! WE DON'T WANT TO BE A WAITRESS!"
The girls fell to their knees on the cold gravel driveway outside the double-wide Maurice had led them to -- the home he assured them they would share until their miserable, wretched deaths. Their backs heaved with silent sobs until in quiet, somber unison, they managed, "But we're too old to change."
"Too OLD?! Bitch, you 6. Are you out cho got damn mind!? And GIT the fuck up. Be all cryin' all over the got damn driveway and shit. Now git yo stupid ass home and don' make me come on back here agin or I'mma show you my pimp hand. You gots?"
"We gots."
"And get that got damn Tammy Faye make-up off yo faces. Black lines all runnin' down yo shit." The girls watched as Maurice strutted toward the parking lot, mumbling as he went, "6-year-old girls runnin' 'round like Tyra Banks and what not. Ain't that about a bitch." As he ducked into his Cutlass Supreme, Maurice turned one last time. He winked and said, "And tell ya mommas Maurice say hey. They know."

"I know you like to think your shit don't stink, but lean a little bit closer see roses really smell like poo-ooh-ooh." -- OutKast

Monday, October 12, 2009

Puloo Si BaGOOMba

Several updates.

1) $1,000. That, at least in theory, is the most it will cost us to have Dr. Brad make it so that Ethan can hear. The most, as in "I can't seem to get even a ballpark figure from anyone as to what atresia repair surgery costs, so I'm relying on Blue Cross Blue Shield's in-network max figure which is essentially 10%, capped at $1,000 with a $300 deductible (already met)." You know, that old chestnut.
I guess that means there's no reason not to schedule surgery with Dr. Brad. For some reason -- possibly the recent onslaught of horror stories being trotted out during the current health care reform debates -- I had it in my head that this would be harder. Whatever. Not ruling out a fight in the future, but basking in the current state of uncomplicatednessosity. Looking toward either the Christmas break or Spring break since we'd rather not have the boys out of school unless absolutely necessary.
Wait, we're talking about Kindergarten and first grade here. And despite the fact that Kindergarten is the new first grade and first grade is the new second grade, it's still all shite considering that we're talking about Ethan being able to hear. No, fuck that, first available and school can kiss my ass. Not really, I like their school. But you know what I mean.

2) Speaking of school, just had a lovely chat with Ms. A (not her real name), the guidance counselor who's filling in for Ms. B (not her real name either. GOD, I'm totally the Bourne Identity) who's out on maternity leave. It appears that while in the hall en route to the cafeteria, a little boy in his class tried to kiss Ethan. Ethan, who knows better than to play around in the halls, told the little boy to stop. The little boy persisted so Ethan punched him several times. Really fucking hard. I've felt Ethan's punches and, while most of them were to my nads and, thus, produced more pain than would be normally experienced, I can testify to his non-ball-punching strength as well. Sometimes I deliver that testimony in a really high voice. With tears streaming down my cheeks. And I tend to sleep on my back those nights.
Anyhoo the teacher took both boys to Ms. A's office who then called me. And I gotta tell you, Ms. A's voice? Not. Threatening. When she announced that she was calling from the school, her tone made me think that she wanted Sandi to bake something for a fundraiser. And then I found out who she was and why she was calling and I'm all like DAMN, I wish MY disciplinarians were that nice. Mine were big, sweaty guys fresh from the bush in Vietnam who spit on you when they yell-spoke -- "A TWISTED SISTER PIN?! ON YOUR UNIFORM?!" Seriously, I still have the yearbooks. It was not my imagination. Those guys were BADASS.
So Aunt Bea's on the phone telling me that Ethan just jacked some kid and all I can think is lady, not to tell you your business or anything, but if your concern here is that Eth may become a career gay basher, you may want to take a sterner tone. Ugh, fuckin' ugh. I gotta do EVERYthing myself. So she puts him on the phone. Odd thing? He asks me to speak to me by name: "Hello, may I speak to Ed please?" That's when I realized that the school must pass out Ecstasy and play industrial rave music for morning recess. T'would certainly explain the mirrored balls in the gym.
Anyway, Ethan and I spoke. I expressed my displeasure in firm daddy tones and let him know that we will be talking about this. Now all I have to do is figure a way to do so without using the words "hate crime" which could lay the seeds for a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thanks, Aunt Bea. You've made my job SO much easier.

3) Sandi and I took a day last week and went shopping for stuff to finish our bedroom. We scored a few really nice carved wooden masks, much like the picture shown above (without the ears, though. I added those in case you couldn't tell. Surprise!). I hung the masks above our headboard yesterday and when Ethan saw them, he went up to one and said, "Hey, Pal. Why the long face?" His first joke. Well, his first funny joke. His first attempted joke was "Why did the chicken cross the road. Because he dropped his keys." Which reminds me that Thomas told his first funny joke around this time last year: "Excuse me, can I have another butt please? This one has a crack in it."

4) Ooh, let's have a contest. If you can tell me what the title of this post is from I'll send you something nice. E-mail me your answers and I'll pick a random winner.

5) There is no five.

"Laughter is inner jogging." -- Norman Cousins

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dear Hallmark, Have I Got a Challenge For You

I'm in a weird mood. Sorry for this.

Language just fails me when I try to describe remembrances of my father. Even the word "remember" seems to want to constrain my recollections to a laundry list of characteristics and shared experiences: He had dark hair, He took me to a Phillies game, and so on. Yeah, there certainly were enough of those line items to give anyone an idea of what he was like, but what bonded us was so far beyond any words I can conjure. My father created a physical wake as he passed through a room and I could feel him in our house. He had a palpable energy. And his energy fed mine without depleting. Whether or not we shared world views (we didn't), we were tethered to each other in such a way that is beyond my ability to fully describe, save to say we were like different points along the same lightning strike. And within that tether our differences did not matter. We were in perfect union, dancing as only lightning can.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I'm the youngest of 7 kids -- 5 boys, 2 girls, 2 sets of fraternal twins in the mix. My dad was 47 when I was born -- my age now. Ask me how I'd handle having a newborn in my life right now and if I use any word that is not a synonym for "poorly," punch me hard in the face for lying. As it is, many are the days when I feel guilty for not giving my 5- and 6-year-old sons the energy they deserve. I worry that they'll view me as I viewed my father: Uninvested. Apathetic. Rehearsed. Spent. When he and I played catch it seemed like a task to him, like mandatory sexual harassment training hosted by the Human Resources department. He clearly didn't want to be there -- counting the minutes until it was over -- but obliged because such things were part of his job description. The argument that maybe he was spent from having to go through those same motions 6 times before isn't anything a child on the receiving end is willing or able to accept. Do you have any idea how many times the cast of Cats has had to perform? Yeah, well I don't either but I know it's more than 6.
When my older brother and sister, twins 7 years my senior, moved out of the house, I lost the 2 most important people in my daily life -- the people I truly credit with having raised me. My father and I spent most of the following years avoiding each other. My mother died of cancer 2 days short of my birthday during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at college. After that it was he and I, thrust together in silence. We shared his house and the chores and we stayed out of each others' way. So removed was he that when I told him I wanted to go to art school he asked me in a not so nice way if I was gay. Which was pretty gutsy considering I dwarfed him since I'd turned 14, and pretty out of touch considering I'd knocked up the first girl I ever had sex with a few year earlier, and had been dating the woman who would become my first wife for more than a year. And so went our ballet as we tried our darnedest not to break each other. But he wouldn't remain unbroken for long. He began to drink.
My laundry list of shared experiences is packed with memories of coming home to find him passed out in his chair, empty fifth of vodka on the floor. Trips to the emergency room to sew him up after he'd stumbled through the sliding glass door. Re-parking his car so that he wouldn't feel shame when he woke and realized that he'd completely missed the driveway.
I found his body three days after he died. He was to come to dinner at our apartment the Saturday before but didn't show. When I called that night to ask if he was coming he laughed a knowing laugh and said, "Oh, I don't think so," as if he knew he was dead. Part of me likes to entertain the fantasy that I was talking with his ghost on the phone that night.
I had just started a new job and was in a probationary stage, so I didn't have the flexibility to take off and visit him. However, a few days of unreturned calls lead me to make the 2-hour drive that grim Wednesday morning. I was greeted by a full mailbox and a dozen newspapers in varying stages of yellow scattered on the front porch. Telltale. I let myself in and called for him. No answer. I searched the downstairs. Nothing. I walked upstairs and saw his legs through the open door of the hall bathroom. He had died on the toilet. Heart attack. Lurched slightly forward and against the wall, very purple for all the broken capillaries. The look on his face could have easily passed for disdain -- one last silent chastisement.
In my panic I lifted him from the toilet and carried him to his bed. I called the police. I have no idea how long it took for anyone to arrive, but I do recall a responding officer apologizing for having to ask me questions about whether or not we had fought. Apparently the moving of a dead body is fairly common in crimes of passion. I told him not to worry, that I understood he was only doing his job. I was summarily cleared of any suspicion, woohoo. I began to make the phone calls and was struck by how surreal it seemed to be watching the bag containing my dad's dead body being wheeled from the house as my sister's phone rang on the other end. The circle of life. Strung with barbs and sitting atop a fence.
I didn't sleep well for quite a few months after that. Every time I closed my eyes I saw the picture of my father's body. I can still see it in amazing detail to this day some 20 years later. I suspect this is a mild form of PTSD. I remember one very vivid dream of him coming back to visit me to tell me I had done very well the day I found him. He seemed to be trying to explain something in a roundabout fashion about how in death he'd learned the truth of life and the universe. I remember waking thinking that the underlying message was that the power to mold my own reality was in my hands. My dad and Sartre. Who would have guessed.
He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to my mom. Full Honor Guard, 21-gun salute, overhead fly-by with one plane missing from formation. Aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors all shared stories of how great a man he was. He was just great before I got there is all.

Every once in a while the universe affords us the opportunity to take inventory of our lives. As I look around me and see the amazingly dense beauty that saturates my daily life, I wonder how I got here. I wonder how I created such a lush, rewarding reality and to what degree my decisions were influenced by my dad. I cherish the intimacy my sons and I share -- a closeness he and I could never have dreamed of. I wonder if my father had the emotional capacity to be moved to tears by the beauty of his children's laughter like I often am. I wonder if he sensed relief that it was over. If he flashed back to his warrior/hero days. If he thought about his father.
I am in awe of the underlying power and I marvel at the lightning bolt as I look down the line at the next points in the surge. Thomas and Ethan, you have inherited such a pure, strong, fleeting energy. Use it wisely and please be mindful to occasionally look back up the lightning bolt and give your grandfather a nod.

Happy birthday dad. Miss you. We're cool.

"Earth and sky, why you and I have an electric attraction is understood.
I danced around until you found me reaching out like a great redwood
to lightning." -- Maia Sharp